A couple of weeks ago I started to read again Edith Sodergran’s Poems. Her first collection is published in 1916. I found that she was concerned about her own place in the human society. It is no secret that she felt herself as an outsider. Perhaps in those days it was a bigger loss than it is today. At least she would have liked to be inside instead of being left outside of the common circles. That’s why her verses are often quite touching descriptions of mental discrimination. She differed from the main stream in many ways, and that’s something which is not looked with approval.
She was interested in the existentialism and applied these ideas in her poetry. Her Christianity has some mystic edge which was a strange in Finland where the Lutheran Church is the state church. Edith lived in Karelian where the Orthodox Church has a foothold. That denomination looks Christianity from their point of view having a rich spiritual iconolatry. Södergran went to school in St Petersburg which wasn’t exceptional in that time because Finland was a part of Russian. If she had written in Russian there wouldn’t have been so much astonishment but her mother tongue was Swedish. In 1917 Finland became an independent state and dissociated itself from Russian culture.
When the situation was like this it wasn’t a miracle that she felt being left outside this world but this wasn’t enough. Edith Södergran was stricken with tuberculosis. She spent last years of her life in Raivola with her mother having only few contacts outside her home. On the other hand her poetry wouldn’t be so exceptional if she wasn’t being isolated. Many art critics have said that it would be mistake to dramatize Edith’s life but I see that her loneliness hasn’t yet even discovered as it isn’t realized how cruel this world treats those not in common. In this connection I am not able to analyze the motives of mental discrimination as it would make this article too long and tangled but now speak those who suffer.
One of the poems where Edith told us how she lives in isolation is called Me, Jag, in Swedish. I will explain some lines in English to you. I can’t use the official translation because it is not 75 years old. You can also use the translator. Here’s the way the poem goes in Swedish:
Jag är främmande i detta land (1)
som ligger djupt under det tryckande havet, (2)
solen blickar in med ringlande strålar (3)
och luften flyter mellan mina händer. (4)
Man sade mig att jag är född i fångenskap – (5)
här är intet ansikte som vore mig bekant. (6)
Var jag en sten, den man kastat hit på bottnen? (7)
Var jag en frukt, som var för tung sin gren? (8)
Här ligger jag på lur vid det susande trädets fot, (9)
hur skall jag komma upp för de hala stammarna? (10)
Däruppe mötas de raglande kronorna, (11)
där vill jag sitta och speja ut (12)
efter röken ur mitt hemlands skorstenar … (13)
At the beginning of the poem she told that she doesn’t feel at home where she is isolated to (1-2) and she senses that life is going down the drain. (4) In brief she is in the middle of the huge pain. She asks if she was a good-for-nothing, like a stone, which was thrown into the bottom of the ocean (7) or was she too superior, a fruit which was too heavy for its own bough. (8) She doesn’t blame anyone but hopes that one day she could look out from the top of the tree how the pillars of smokes coming out of chimneys. (11-13)
Accidentally I wrote 9/5 -14 a poem which deals with this mental discrimination. There I found one motive for the discrimination. Human beings must be productive. When you come up to expectations in this sense you are allowed to even have some liberties.
Freedom there is anyhow
In the commercial forest
is no room for elm, no willow.
Freedom there is anyhow
to put a ring to your nose
and tear up new jeans
if you only happen to be
the fine pine tree.